Old but not wise? Our growing anti-ageing industry

May 3, 2013 by Alan Petersen, Monash University

Growing old is generally viewed in negative terms in our society. And our individualistic and consumerist approach to health care leads us to believe that it's within our power to alter the "biological clock"—if we are willing and able to pay.

But while lifespans may be increasing (largely due to improvements in living standards), there's no evidence that medicine can alter the process of human biological ageing.

Still, numerous so-called anti-ageing treatments are currently advertised and available for purchase via the internet. These cover a broad spectrum, including cosmetic treatments, hormone replacement therapies, implants, prosthetic devices and stem cell treatments. Some providers even offer the treatments as part of a packaged holiday, offering surgery alongside sand and sunshine.

In Australia, some common treatments include non-surgical facelifts, anti-wrinkle injections and "dermal fillers", permanent hair removal and laser treatments.

Consumer organisation, Choice, has questioned some of the claims of those advertising anti-ageing treatments. In a review of such treatments, Choice notes, for instance, that there's "no such thing as a 'non-surgical' face-lift", and that such procedures "won't last as long as a surgical face-lift."

Despite the advertising of , the anti-ageing industry is difficult to regulate.

One of the greatest challenges for regulating a market like this is that many treatments are advertised directly to consumers over the internet. If not available in Australia, treatments can almost certainly be purchased overseas. Clever advertising techniques give the impression that there's an effective treatment for almost any age-related "condition".

Another challenge for regulators is that the term "anti-ageing" is difficult to pin down. Treatments that were long part of have been relabelled as "anti-ageing". These include using antioxidants, vitamins and homeopathic products.

Some treatments that have actually undergone clinical trials and are used for treating conditions such as sexual dysfunction and heart disease have been relabelled to join the anti-ageing marketplace. And there are newer, clinically unproven treatments such as stem cell therapies, that are mostly only available for purchase overseas.

Clearly, many groups have a stake in the "anti-ageing industry". Chief among these are the biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies that stand to profit from the sale of new pills, potions, , and implants. And then there are numerous clinics and private hospitals that profit from providing the treatments.

The "anti-ageing industry" has grown from a low base to reach a net worth of $88 billion in just ten years. An industry newsletter predicts that it will be worth nearly $300 billion by 2015.

If these predictions are to be believed, many consumers will, in coming years, be submitting themselves to many treatments that are clinically unproven and potentially harmful. At minimum, these treatments may be ineffective. There's also the risk that people may be financially exploited.

The irony is, by making ageing a disease, the anti-ageing industry may in fact create illnesses.

There have been some reported increased rates of adverse events, including death, among healthy elderly people resulting from the use of human growth hormones. Adverse effects have also been associated with the use of stem cell-based cosmetics.

Older people are at greater risk because they may be taking multiple prescription drugs and may suffer harm from the interaction of supplements and drugs. Despite these potential multiple risks, there has been relatively little public debate about the pros and cons of the anti-ageing treatment market.

Growing old may not be desirable, but it is inevitable. In the end, it is better to live healthy, active lives for as long as possible with minimal medical intervention.

Explore further: Study pinpoints genes involved in diet-mediated life-extension

Related Stories

Study pinpoints genes involved in diet-mediated life-extension

August 14, 2012
Researchers at the University of Liverpool have developed a new method to identify genes involved in diet-mediated life-extension which allowed them to find three novel genes that extend lifespan in yeast.

Ageing linked to cancer

October 8, 2012
Ageing is an unavoidable part of life, and it is often accompanied by a number of age-related illnesses. One of the biggest diseases associated with ageing is cancer, which as a result is often referred to as a 'disease of ...

Key genes that switch off with aging highlighted as potential targets for anti-aging therapies

April 19, 2012
Researchers at King's College London, in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, have identified a group of 'ageing' genes that are switched on and off by natural mechanisms called epigenetic factors, influencing ...

Recommended for you

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) May 04, 2013
Not wise? Did anyone involved in this inaccurate portrayal of what is currently neuroscientifically known about anti-aging medicine consider "Hypothalamic programming of systemic ageing involving IKK-b,NF-kB and GnRH" http://dx.doi.org...ure12143

"...our study... demonstrates that the hypothalamus is important for systemic ageing and lifespan control... The underlying basis includes integration between immunity and neuroendocrine of the hypothalamus, and immune inhibition and GnRH restoration in the hypothalamus or the brain represent two potential strategies for combating ageing-related health problems."

There is now sufficient information about the epigenetic effects of sensory input that enable integration of immune inhibition and GnRH restoration in the hypothalamus. But we still have others denying the accumulated wisdom about cause and effect. Are the GnRH-neuroendocrine-neuroimmune system connection-deniers human pheromone-deniers, or are they simple-minded theorists?
1 / 5 (1) May 04, 2013
A.P. you cynical opinion isn't balanced, welcome or appropriate.
You clearly have little knowledge or experience of that which you criticize. Further, the informed focus in this field is more about increasing ones 'healthspan' which is quite possible, than increasing lifespan, though that may occur as well.
not rated yet May 06, 2013
Reading this from a sociologist and looking at his research profile made me think of neo - luddism.

Where is the line between the prescription drugs taken by elder people and life extending
Where is the line between diseas and age related disfunction (for example dementia)?
Is it wise to miss the chance to make use of technology to evade an end where your cognitive abilities fade away with agonizing slowness?

Finally, there is plenty of fraud, unproven practices and even health hazards or death through treatments in general health care too.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.